Tsukuba-san 筑波山 (Nantai-san 男体山, 870m and Nyotai-san 女体山, 876m)

Day hiking trip up one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains. This mountain is about 50km north of Tokyo and was accessed relatively easily by train from Akihabara then a bus to the trail head. It’s a historic religious mountain with twin peaks seen as symbols of male and female deities. It is also famous for a selection of interestingly shaped rocks that are named on the path (only in Japanese so I only know about the most famous toad rock -see picture at the end).

The mountain is not particularly high, particularly on Japanese standards but was presumably chosen to be a 100 Famous Mountain due to its religious significance and the fact it stands alone in the Kanto plane so has a real presence in the surrounding landscape.

The weather today was lovely, sunny and warm. I was hoping for some autumn colours and there were some beautiful ones but clearly autumn has not yet fully arrived here!

At the bottom of the mountain there are a series of shrines at Tsukuba jinja-mae.

The mountain was very crowded. There is a cable car and a funicular railway up the mountain which probably added to the crowds but the busiest part seemed to be the way down from Nyotai-san where I passed long queues of people coming up. The walking was quite rocky and steep and I enjoyed using my new birthday walking poles to ease the pressure on my knees!

Here are some pictures:

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This is Toad Rock (below) – it’s claimed to bring you luck if you throw a rock and it lands in its mouth!

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Educational Manga

I read in the Time Out guide to Tokyo that some of the best Manga (Japanese comics) had been translated into English and were available in a bookshop in Shinjuku.

I thought I would try reading one as an experiment in Japanese culture. I have never been into comics or cartoons, perhaps because I had no access to a TV and therefore cartoons as a young child but I’m really enjoying learning about Japan through this medium!

So far I’ve read two books – one about food and one about Japanese pre-second world war history and thoroughly enjoyed both. I’m sure I’ll read many more – just the dilemma on electronic versions – the way I read most books these days – or paper versions – somehow nicer when art is involved.

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Turtle Half Marathon

New PB (official time to be confirmed but between 1h48 and 1h49 from my measurement) at the Turtle half marathon today on the Arakawa river in Adachi-ku to the east of Tokyo.

Thanks go to Juergen for the place. He writes the website Running in Tokyo and got a few places for international runners as a result:

http://runningintokyo.com

It was very crowded so difficult to run at the pace I wanted but this did help me not o go too fast at the start.

The route was lovely, out along the river and back and there were many blind runners and other disabled competitors which made for a great atmosphere.

I had a great stretch at the end curtesy of the massage tent.

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Swimming at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium followed by lunch and a wander through Daikanyama, Tokyo

I had a lovely day on Sunday which started with a swim at a good 50m swimming pool in Tokyo.

I met Sachi for swimming and Lisa, a friend, a champion open water swimmer and swim coach was also there training a para-triathlete. I got a short lesson at the end of her work which was great – I could feel the improvement with the advice she gave me – much appreciated!

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We followed our swim with a lovely lunch:

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And a walk through Tokyo to a new area I hadn’t visited before – Daikanyama – full of lovely streets, boutiques and a great bookshop – Tsutaya Books.

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Weekend in Nagasaki with Mum and Dad

On Friday 26th September, after work I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Hakata on Kyushu, the southern most of Japan’s main 4 main islands. It was a good trip, this time I reserved my seat and enjoyed the long journey. It was 5 hours from Tokyo to Hakata and as far as I would travel that night. I arrived just before midnight and stayed in a business hotel by the station.

I started early on Saturday getting an early train to Nagasaki where I met my parents who had made the full journey earlier on Friday while I was working. The journey from Hakata to Nagasaki was lovely, the train went down the coast past many small coastal towns.

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At 0930 I arrived at Nagasaki. My parents had already been out exploring and had bought us tram passes from the day ready to explore the city.

Nagasaki, not surprisingly has a very different feel to Tokyo and surroundings. There is a lot more space and the harbour and river dominate the city with the city filling all of the flat space and up many of the hill sides going up from the river.

We started with a tram journey to the Peace Park, a park to commemorate the atomic bomb that hit Nagasaki at 11:02 on 9th August 1945. It was a lovely garden with memorials from all over the world and a nice fountain to commemorate those who had died, many of whom were evidently begging for water to drink. The statue pictured below is pointing to the sky where the bomb came from.

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We followed this by a walk to the Atomic Bomb Hypocentre Park which has a memorial to mark the spot above which the bomb exploded ( it exploded at an altitude of about 500m). It’s a sobering place to visit.  The black monument is pointing to the place above where the bomb exploded.  The colourful flags/streamers are brought by school children visiting the site and remembering those who lost their lives and hope for peace.

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After lunch we visited Glover Garden.  Glover was a Scot ‘the Scottish Samurai’ who helped modernise Nagasaki in the Meiji period when Japan first opened up to the outside world.  He built Japan’s first railway and helped establish the shipbuilding industry including importing a crane from Scotland, still present and working in Nagasaki.

For more information on the importance of this crane in the industrial history of both Japan and Scotland see the following link:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-28742273

The famous crane (much photographed on our visit, particularly by my Dad!).

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The Glover Garden is an outdoor museum with old buildings moved to the site on the side of the hill overlooking the city and harbour.

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On the way back to the hotel before dinner we took a short walk through China town:

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On Sunday morning I got up early and went for a lovely long run along the harbour side.  Nagasaki is a good place to run with a good wide path along the edge of the river and harbour.  After running and breakfast, we took the cable car up to Inasa-yama above Nagasaki with great (if a little hazy) views on the city and out to sea.

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On Sunday afternoon after lunch we headed back to Tokyo enjoying rather splendid bento boxes for dinner on the Shinkansen (bullet train).

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A great weekend.  I really liked Nagasaki.

Hokusai Exhibition at Ueno Royal Museum Tokyo

Last weekend right at the end of the time when my parents were still visiting Japan a Typhoon hit Tokyo.  We took advantage of the rain to do an indoor activity and went to visit a fabulous exhibition of Hokusai art from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

http://ukiyoe.exhn.jp/en/index.html

It was incredibly busy – many people had the same idea as us but was brilliant.  It was great to see the works that we are all familiar with but also to see many many more.  I particularly enjoyed the images of people going about their business with many activities going on in a single print.

My Dad bought me the exhibition book as a present for hosting them in Japan, it’s a lovely book and I look forward to it being an influence on my own art.  I’ll remember this exhibition for a long time to come.

Hair cut!

I’ve been in Japan for 6 months now and haven’t had a hair cut. Partly it was being busy but I also had some apprehension about how to manage this without a good grasp of Japanese and explain what I wanted.

You also see very few people here with curly hair so thought my hair could be a challenge!

Still, as you could imagine my hair was not in the best condition and it was beginning to get me down so I bit the bullet and went to my local hairdresser.

Like most of my experiences in Japan it turned out to be no problem! They fitted me in within 10 minutes and spoke good English. Cutting my hair fine and finishing it off straight at my request (going curly being a risky choice generally in my experience!).

I enclose a picture, you’ll see the curls are starting to come back already but it feels great to have the dry ends cut off! I’m sure I’ll be back before another 6 months pass.

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